Encyclopedia of Arkansas Minute

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The Encyclopedia of Arkansas Minute features the history of Arkansas as told through the entries of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas is a program of the Central Arkansas Library System Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.

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A mysterious, deer-like creature that reportedly roams the Ozarks is seen as ominous to some of the region’s residents. Folklorist Vance Randolph was the first to record the animal, known as the Snawfus, which is larger than a deer and has trees growing from its head instead of antlers.

Since the 1930s, a mysterious floating light above the railroad tracks near Gurdon has fostered a number of theories, some of them supernatural.

A horror film based on a series of post-World War II murders in Texarkana yielded a big profit for a prolific Arkansas director.

Charles B. Pierce, director of such classics as The Legend of Boggy Creek, released The Town That Dreaded Sundown, featuring Oscar winner Ben Johnson and Dawn Wells of Gilligan’s Island, in 1976. The movie, based on a series of 1946 attacks by a hooded man the Texarkana Gazette called “The Phantom Killer,” was one of the first slasher movies.

An inventor from Texas moved to Pine Bluff and created a machine that revolutionized American agriculture.

John Rust was born in 1892 near Necessity, Texas, and became apt at mechanical tinkering while doing farm work. He set a goal of creating a mechanical cotton picker and in 1928 went into business with his brother Mack; they ultimately owned forty-seven patents. The brothers worked in Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee as they sought financial backing for their cotton picker, but their company went bankrupt in the early 1940s and Mack moved to Arizona.

An 1891 attempt by Black sharecroppers to increase the amount of money they were paid for picking cotton led to more than a dozen of them dying.

Ben Patterson of Memphis came to Lee County in late September to establish a strike, but things quickly took a violent turn as organizers traveled the county. Two cotton pickers were killed on the 25th and a white plantation manager was murdered and a cotton gin burned three days later.

A University of Arkansas agronomist developed the “king” of early maturing cotton.

Carl Moosberg was born in 1905, the child of Swedish immigrants. He began working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture when he was 18 and after graduating from Texas Tech became an expert cotton breeder.

He worked at the University of Arkansas’s Cotton Branch Station from 1948 to ’72 and was a research agronomist with UA beginning in 1968, bringing his talents to field work that required long hours working with cotton plants to create the desired traits.

The Presbyterian Church was at the vanguard of teaching Black children in Hot Springs in the late nineteenth century.

Reverend A.E. Torrence opened a parochial school for Black students in the early 1890s, which was “highly regarded locally for it program of culture and quality education.” In 1904, Reverend C.S. Mebane took over the school, including ownership of its property and equipment. While many referred to the school as the Mebane Academy, he called it the Hot Springs Normal and Industrial Institute.

Jonesboro was home to two Baptist Colleges, neither of which lasted long. The Mount Zion Baptist Association founded Woodland College in 1901 and built two structures before it failed in 1913. Seven years later, ground was broken for a two hundred thousand dollar administration building for Jonesboro Baptist College.

Fayetteville was home to the first degree-conferring college charted by the state.

Englishman Robert Graham emigrated to the U.S. and after attending a Disciples of Christ college in Virginia became a missionary for the faith. He organized a Disciples congregation in Fayetteville in 1848 and became its pastor, and in 1851 he bought ten acres on what is now College Avenue to hold a college.

An Ozark native enjoyed a career as an artist that spanned much of the United States.

Kathryne Bess Hail was born in 1894 and studied art in high school and college before attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1911, where she met her future husband, Olin Herman Travis.

For nearly forty years, Benton County’s Monte Ne was home to a summer camp for girls that coupled outdoor activities with dancing and dramatics.

Iris Armstrong, who ran a private dramatic academy in Little Rock, founded Camp Joyzelle in 1923 on a hundred acres of leased land around the Monte Ne train depot, which became the camp’s office. Catering to well-to-do families, Camp Joyzelle’s cabins were named for mythical goddesses such as Pandora and Daphne and the main lodge featured a handicrafts shop, library, art studio and theater.

Bette Greene’s 1973 novel "Summer Of My German Soldier," set in eastern Arkansas during World War II, remains a perennial young adult bestseller and one of the most-banned books in the U.S.

For more than a century, a North Little Rock nursery cultivated and shipped flowers across the United States.

Quaker horticulturalist J.W. Vestal moved from Indiana to the Baring Cross area in 1881, attracted by the warmer climate and inexpensive and fertile land near the Arkansas River. Continuing publication of a catalog he had founded in 1861, by 1914 J.W. Vestal and Son were mailing fifty thousand catalogs worldwide, promoting roses, magnolias and more than one hundred seventy varieties of strawberries, some of them purple and orange.

An African American civil rights pioneer and teacher helped one of Arkansas’s most famous poets find her voice.

Beulah Lee Sampson was born in Hempstead County in 1883, the daughter of former slaves. Gaining her teacher’s license in 1902, she moved to Stamps in neighboring Lafayette County seven years later after marrying Alonza Flowers. She became a community leader and helped her son W. Harold Flowers found the Committee on Negro Organizations, a civil rights group.

At the turn of the twentieth century, a fierce debate raged over which floral emblem would become Arkansas’s official state flower.

Margaret Pittman was born in Prairie Grove in 1901.

The daughter of a country doctor, she sometimes helped him by administering anesthesia or vaccinations. This led her to pursue a career in microbiology after receiving a 1929 doctorate from the University of Chicago.

The state legislature authorized creation of a state sanatorium in 1909, selecting a site about three miles south of Booneville to house white Arkansans with tuberculosis.

Various buildings were constructed to serve the patients over the next twenty years, and in 1938 the Nichols-Nyberg Act allowed creation of a five-story, five-hundred twenty-eight foot long hospital building with doctors’ offices, cafeteria and kitchen, and a morgue. Named the Nyberg Building, it could hold five hundred eleven patients and was soon known worldwide for its treatment of tuberculosis patients.

In 1918, Arkansas and the world were reeling from the deadliest pandemic in human history: the Spanish flu.

The disease may have started in Haskell County, Kansas, from which it quickly spread to a military base crowded with World War I recruits. At North Little Rock’s Camp Pike, the infirmary was soon admitting up to a thousand men a day, leading to a quarantine.

The Arkansas State Hospital has seen a number of changes in its 147-year history.

The General Assembly appropriated $50,000 to create the State Lunatic Asylum in 1873, but political battles kept it from being built until 10 years later.

The asylum was often overcrowded, leading to a series of expansions, and its name was changed to the Arkansas State Hospital for Nervous Disorders in 1905. It became the Arkansas state hospital in 1933.

A New York carpetbagger attempted a coup d’état amid the political upheaval remembered as the Brooks-Baxter War.

Volney Voltaire Smith came to Arkansas following the Civil War working as a newspaperman, a Freedmen's Bureau agent and as Lafayette County clerk. In 1872 he ran as a Republican for lieutenant governor with Elisha Baxter leading the ticket.

B-movie king Roger Corman gave an early boost to the career of the man who later directed “The Silence Of The Lambs.”

Jonathan Demme wrote and directed “Fighting Mad,” a 1976 epic starring Peter Fonda and featuring Scott Glenn. The movie about a horse farmer who seeks bloody retribution after a strip mining firm kills his family members fit Corman's formula of a little violence but not too much, a little sex but not too much, a little politics but not too much.

From 1911 to 1975 the ethnicity of Arkansans was legally defined by the blood of their ancestors.

Act 320 of 1911, also known as the “one drop rule,” defined anyone “who has … any negro blood whatever” as a “Negro,” consigning people with even remote African ancestry to second-class citizenship in segregated Arkansas.

Since 1871, water from a Garland County spring has been consumed for its curative powers, resulting in a multi-million dollar business in the twenty-first century.

Arkadelphia brothers Peter and John Greene were the first to sell Mountain Valley Spring Water, building a hotel at the spring site and marketing the water as a cure for dyspepsia, dropsy, Bright’s Disease, and kidney and liver ailments.

For more than sixty years, the City of Little Rock had a Censor Board to evaluate the “moral appropriateness” of public entertainment.

Created in 1911, the board met sporadically until it was revamped in 1926 and voted a year later to ban two African American newspapers that had covered the lynching of John Carter.

A pair of Searcy County twins played a significant role in the folk revival of the mid-twentieth century.

Abbie Sherman Morrison and Absie Sheridan Morrison were born in 1876, the sons of a Civil War veteran who served in both armies but favored the Union, giving his sons the names of Yankee generals as their middle names.

Anyone who has driven up Highway 65 in Central Arkansas has doubtless noticed the work of African American stonemason Silas Owens.

Torii Hunter, born in Pine Bluff in 1975, had one of the greatest baseball careers of any Arkansan who played the game. A natural athlete, Hunter gravitated toward baseball after a home run in a Little League game at age 13 led to reporters interviewing him.

He was the first draft pick for the Minnesota Twins in 1993, playing with them until the California Angels wooed him away with a ninety million dollar contract in 2007. He later played two seasons with the Detroit Tigers before returning to the Twins.

A cross-dressing Confederate guerrilla pulled off a remarkable subterfuge to give his men a memorable Christmas present in 1864.

Howell A. “Doc” Rayburn, born in 1841, joined the Twelfth Texas Cavalry in October 1861, traveling to Des Arc the following March to board steamboats to cross the Mississippi.

Fred Marshall, born in Memphis and raised in Little Rock, was a talented musician, sculptor, inventor and educator, but is best know for his work on a classic Christmas cartoon.

Marshall, whose mother taught art at Arkansas Tech University, began playing piano at five and was playing bass and drums by the time he went to Little Rock Central High. As a teenager he played at jazz clubs on Ninth Street, remembering that he would hide behind his bass when police entered: “Not only was I underage, I was a white man playing in a black club.”

Cold War tensions led to a nuclear weapon test being named for the Natural State.

Following the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the Soviet Union announced in August 1961 that it would resume atmospheric testing after a three-year moratorium; the U.S. followed suit in October. The United States conducted thirty-six nuclear tests in the Pacific as part of Operation Dominic.